What is the Third Way?

March 27, 1998

At the heart of the academic response to new Labour is the debate over the kind of politics the Blair government is developing. This has been described as the Third Way.

But what is this Third Way? In the Nexus debate Stuart White wrote: "We know, of course, what this Third Way is not. It is not old-fashioned state socialism or statist social democracy and it is not free-market neo-liberalism. We also know that it aims to reconcile an... emphasis on economic efficiency and dynamism with a traditional left concern with equity and social cohesion." Or, as David Miliband, director of the No. 10 Policy Unit, puts it: "Political economy for the 21st century must combine dynamism and equity, defining a Third Way between old left and new right".

Some dismiss the whole thing as Clintonesque electioneering, others as the final triumph of the radical centre of the Social Democratic Party.

What might a Third Way look like? In the Nexus debate Michael Jacobs of the Fabian Society suggests the future role of the state should be governed by the effectiveness of its methods for achieving primary objectives rather than by any ideological conviction. The state does not need to be the provider of services, the owner of industries or the payer of welfare, unless by using the state one furthers values such as ensuring that unemployment is kept low or standards in schools improved.

David Marquand, also on the Nexus site, advises stopping measuring a state's performance by GDP per head. Instead the government should instigate "a mechanism for social audit, from which appropriate indicators of well-being should be derived." Measurable improvements in these indicators of well-being should be the government's new touchstone of success.

Nexus: www.netnexus.org

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